Spotlight now on texting drivers

A $20,000 federal grant to the Lexington police to improve enforcement of Kentucky's no-texting-while-driving-law is not much, but it could save lives.

Consider these facts from Distraction.gov, the U.S. Department of Transportation's website about driving while distracted:

■ Among drivers 15 to 19 years old who were in fatal crashes that involved distraction, 21 percent were distracted by the use of cellphones.

■ A driver's eyes are off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds every time he or she sends or receives a text. At 55 mph, that's the equivalent of driving the length of a football field, blind.

■ Many things can cause distraction — talking, eating, grooming -— but texting is especially dangerous because it requires visual, manual and cognitive attention.

■ A quarter of teens respond to a text message once or more every time they drive, while 20 percent of teens and 10 percent of parents admit they have extended, multi-message text conversations while driving.

In light of this — and there's more, much more — the grant to help crack down on texting while driving, which has been illegal in Kentucky since 2011, doesn't seem like a lot of money.

It's not, but it's welcome, as are the efforts by Lexington police to raise awareness of the dangers of texting while driving through a concentrated enforcement effort.

It is particularly difficult to enforce the law against texting (and sending instant messages or email) and driving because officers must see the driver in the act.

It's difficult, of course, to tell if the driver is engaged in any of the prohibited acts as opposed to looking up an address, dialing the phone or answering a call.

This is one reason why 10 states have outlawed using any handheld communication device while driving. (In Kentucky, drivers under 18 are prohibited from using cellphones at all but, again, determining the age of a passing driver is not a simple task.)

The grant money will facilitate enforcement by funding two-officer teams — one to drive and one to spot texters — to patrol for violators. An extra set of eyes in the patrol car looking to document the offense should enhance enforcement.

The point isn't so much to bring down righteous punishment on offenders — there's only a $25 fine for a first offense — as to make all drivers aware that texting while driving is illegal, and dangerous.